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Trust science at your peril: Beware of scientism and political correctness

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2016/06/25

Science is, ideally, a quest for authentic understanding of the world, of everything in the universe. Scientism is a religious faith which preaches that only science is capable of gaining such authentic understanding and that contemporary scientific claims are for all practical purposes true.

In reality, science is a perpetually unfinished quest. The history of science tells of false trails followed, of errors made, of misguided theories held dogmatically long after the evidence had turned against them, of researchers motivated by self-interest and influenced — corrupted, in a sense — by conflicts of interest.

Science has progressed marvelously, but the progress has not come steadily and linearly, it has come through continual correction of minor errors as well as periodic scientific revolutions in which former dogmas were discarded and replaced by different theories, different beliefs, different dogmas, sometimes to an extent capable of changing world-views.

Those realities have been described and documented in many articles and books over many decades (1), yet the conventional wisdom seems ignorant of them. In the popular view, science deploys the scientific method which guarantees getting things right through scrupulous adherence to facts, so that the scientific consensus on any given topic at any given time can supposedly be relied on quite safely to guide personal and public actions.

People who question the mainstream view, the official positions disseminated by such bodies as the National Academy, the Royal Society of London, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, etc., are dismissed as ignoramuses on a par with those who still believe that the Earth is flat, and they are denigrated, attacked, and suppressed as “denialists” — for example, the eminently qualified scientists who question whether HIV really causes AIDS (2), or whether carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming (3), or whether the universe began in a Big Bang about 13 billion years ago (4).

In other words, the officially accepted conventional wisdom functions as an exercise of scientism, proclaiming as true — as not to be questioned — any contemporary claims that have the imprimatur of a prevailing scientific consensus.

The most common popular, mass-media-disseminated beliefs about science fall in line with the official scientistic conventional wisdom. Prominent popularizers of the scientistic faith include people sometimes described as the “New Atheists” — see for instance Curtis White in The Science Delusion (Melville House, 2014), who names among others Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Bill Mahler. Self-styled “Skeptics” (for instance Michael Shermer and the late Martin Gardner) are also apostles of scientism, as illustrated in associated publications (Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer).

But promiscuously indiscriminate faith in currently accepted scientific knowledge is unwarranted. One does not need the immense scholarly literature (1) to recognize that, it is already obvious from first principles and fundamental logic:

–>      Science is carried out by human beings and is therefore inherently fallible.

–>      Scientific theories are neither uniquely determined nor proved by any amount of factual evidence. The proverbial black swans demonstrate that no matter how comprehensive or long-standing any given body of evidence and associated explanations may be, no matter that an hypothesis may have been thoroughly tested and accepted via the scientific method, there may remain lurking in the unknown unknown some bits of data that can disprove the accepted theory instantly and devastatingly.

The popular adherence to scientistic dogmas is immensely dangerous because it may support public policies that cause tangible damage, sometimes on a large scale. Historical examples are fairly well known, but their lesson has not been learned; perhaps because a corollary of contemporary scientistic faith seems to be the notion, implicit if not explicit, that even if science was fallible in earlier times, today’s science is so advanced, so sophisticated, that it is no longer dangerously fallible. That and similar corollaries are acts of faith unsupported by evidence, thereby confirming that scientism is a quasi-religious faith: it is unshakeable, embraced as absolutely and self-evidently true.

A couple of recent books (5) describe the considerable damage done by public policies based on a scientific consensus which remained active during something like half of the 20th century: the policies of forced sterilization of purportedly feeble-minded individuals. This was an exercise in eugenics, a program intended to improve the national genetic stock, and it was supported and justified by the prevailing scientific consensus.

In reviewing these books, David Oshinsky focuses on the Supreme Court’s 8-to-1 decision in 1927, written by the revered Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and agreed to by the “liberal” Jewish Louis Brandeis as well as by 6 other Associate Justices, upholding the forced sterilization of those judged to be mentally defective: “Was it an isolated misstep or something more: an indictment of Justice Holmes and the Progressive movement he appeared to embrace?” (6).

Oshinsky describes the IMBECILES book by Cohen as “a superb history of eugenics in America, from its beginnings as an offshoot of social Darwinism — human survival of the fittest — to its rise as a popular movement, advocating the state-sponsored sterilization of ‘feeble­minded, insane, epileptic, inebriate, criminalistic and other degenerate persons’.”

The point I want to make here is that the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans, which continued in some States into the 1960s, is nowadays described as an outrage based on pseudo-science, yet it had relied on what was regarded at the time as perfectly sound science supported fervently by individuals whose reputation remains that of progressive reformers: as well as Justices Holmes and Brandeis, strong advocates of this eugenic program included other “progressive icons like Theodore Roosevelt and the birth control champion Margaret Sanger . . . . people who combined ‘extravagant faith in science and the state with an outsized confidence in their own expertise.’ . . . Science didn’t lie” (6).

This notion that science doesn’t lie, that it can always be believed, is a tenet of scientism, and it is baseless, quite wrong, as already noted. Yet this notion, this subconscious scientism continues to corrupt public discourse. Scientism is a faith held unwittingly by most popular media, including such elites as the New York Times; and it is held, again unwittingly, by today’s sociopolitical progressives or liberals.

When some claims by some scientists seem plausibly consistent with liberal, progressive programs, activists seize on them, make dogmas of the claims, and denigrate and attack those who disagree as unscientific denialists.

This circumstance is what has come to be called in recent decades “political correctness”: certain views are to be accepted as so self-evidently correct, objectively true — and by the way ethically and morally sound — that disagreeing with them is virtually a criminal act; and indeed actions that are politically incorrect may bring sanctions. Contemporary illustrations of such sanctions are the penalties imposed by colleges and universities on students and faculty who make politically incorrect statements, including the mere use of a word or a phrase that acts as a “trigger”, a “micro-aggression” that makes some individual belonging to a certified-discriminated-against minority feel uncomfortable (7).

That something is politically correct is shown when people who have no direct specific knowledge about a topic express with certainty a dogmatic opinion about it. They have obviously taken this opinion on faith, from sources congenial to them on ideological grounds, which may be based religiously, socially, politically — at any rate, not on actual evidence about the matter.

Contemporary scientific claims that have attained the status of politically correct include that HIV causes AIDS and that human-caused liberation of carbon dioxide is the prime cause of climate change. The manner in which media and individuals refer to these matters is an immediate proof that opinions about them are politically correct, not evidence-based.

For example, the vigilantes who most assiduously and viciously attack those who question whether HIV causes AIDS include an economist (Nicoli Nattrass), a graduate student (Ken Witwer), a psychologist (Seth Kalichman), a lawyer (Jeanne Bergman), an activist (Nathan Geffen) and others, all of whom feel qualified, despite their lack of appropriate qualifications, to denigrate eminent molecular biologists with deep knowledge of the subject, and even to demand that the National Library of Medicine remove a journal from MEDLINE (8).

Left-leaning media (say, MSNBC) treat HIV=AIDS as indisputable settled science; right-leaning media (say, Fox News) doubt that HIV causes AIDS.

Left-leaning media treat as indisputably settled science that human activities are responsible for global warming and climate change; right-leaning media doubt or deny that.

Nature, however, will not be mocked, and the truth is not determined by human ideologies. Public policies (and also private actions, of course) had best be based on the soundest, most probing and skeptical assessment of current knowledge-claims in light of the indisputable fact that no contemporary scientific consensus represents guaranteed truth.

If the present scientistic, politically correct beliefs about HIV/AIDS and about climate change are as misguided as were the scientistic, politically correct beliefs about mental deficiency and eugenics, then immense harm is being done and will continue to be done. Unfortunately, the plain evidence is that HIV does not cause AIDS (9, 10), and the notion that human activities are responsible for global warming and climate change is suggested only by highly complicated, sophisticated, and fallible computer programs that have already been wrong about the global cooling in the 1940s to 1970s and the lack of appreciable warming since about 2000 (4).

Forced sterilization as part of a eugenic program to improve the fitness of the population was supported by progressive reformers and by eminent medical and scientific experts. That physical traits are transmitted from one generation to another was known, scientifically as well as popularly. That behavioral characteristics are similarly transmitted was not obviously wrong, and when sanctioned by experts it became the conventional wisdom. So feeble-minded-ness, epilepsy, poverty, criminality and other socially undesirable characteristics came to be targets for elimination, by quarantining or sterilizing people and families where such characteristics had been noted (11). There was not sufficient dissent within expert communities to prevent what is now recognized as pseudo-science from becoming accepted as settled science, during the early decades of the 20th century: “Less than 100 years ago, America’s finest minds were convinced the nation was threatened by sexually insatiable female morons” (12). Those finest minds included, as well as the earlier mentioned progressive reformers, David Starr Jordan, a biologist specializing in ichthyology, an activist for peace, an eminent educator — president of Indiana University and later founding president of Stanford University — and moreover so concerned with distinguishing good science from bad science and pseudo-science that he had written a book about it (13), as well as works about eugenics (14).

So policy makers might be excused for succumbing to the “scientific” evidence supporting eugenics — a century ago. Nowadays, though, there is no similar excuse for sticking with the theory of HIV/AIDS or with the claim that it is indisputably settled science that global warming and climate change are humanly caused. Competent, qualified experts have published and spoken copiously, pointing to the deficiencies of the present scientific consensuses on these matters. It is past time that these whistle-blowers, these “denialists”, be attended to; that the actual evidence be attended to.

 

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(1)    For example, among dozens or hundreds of worthwhile works:
Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery,” Science, 134 (1961) 596-602
Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method (University of Illinois Press, 1992)
Michael Crichton, “Aliens cause global warming” (Caltech Michelin Lecture), 17 January 2003
Daniel S. Greenberg, Science, Money and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion (University of Chicago Press, 2001) & Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism (University of Chicago Press, 2007)
Paul R. Gross & Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994)
Susan Haack, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate (University of Chicago Press, 1998) & Defending Science — within Reason (Prometheus, 2003)
Ernest B. Hook, (ed). Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect (University of California Press, 2002)
David Knight, The Age of Science: The Scientific World-View in the Nineteenth Century (Basil Blackwell, 1986)
Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1970, 2nd ed., enlarged)
Derek J. de Solla Price, Little Science, Big Science … and Beyond (Columbia University Press, 1963/1986; the 1986 edition contains additional chapters)
Gunther Stent, “Prematurity and uniqueness in scientific discovery,” Scientific American, December 1972, pp. 84-93
John Ziman, Real Science—What It Is, and What It Means (Cambridge University Press, 2000)

(2)   Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory (McFarland, 2007)

(3)    Henry H. Bauer, “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”, 25 November 2012

(4)    Henry H. Bauer, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (McFarland, 2012)

(5)      IMBECILES: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen (Penguin Press, 2016)
ILLIBERAL REFORMERS: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era by Thomas C. Leonard (Princeton University Press, 2016)

(6)    David Oshinsky, review of (5), New York Times Book Review, 14 March 2016

(7)    A rather random selection of pieces about micro-aggression:
“Microaggression theory”“21 Racial Microaggressions you hear on a daily basis”;
“Ten things you didn’t know were racist”“Microaggression”“Microaggression Theory: An assault on everyday life”“Microaggressions: Power, privilege, and everyday life”

(8)    Letter of 5 August 2009

(9)    Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory (McFarland, 2007)

(10) Henry H. Bauer, The Case against HIV

(11) Edwin Black, War against the Weak, Thunder’s Mouth Press (2003)

(12) Farhad Manjoo, “Progressive genocide”, reviewing Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity by Harry Bruinius

(13) David Starr Jordan, The Higher Foolishness, Bobbs-Merrill (1927)

(14) David Starr Jordan, The human harvest; A Study of the Decay of Races through the Survival of the Unfit (American Unitarian Association, 1907); The Heredity of Richard Roe; A Discussion of the Principles of Eugenics (American Unitarian Association, 1911)

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, global warming, media flaws, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, scientism, scientists are human | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Climate change “deniers”

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/10/16

Very good piece, “Climate change denier silenced for doing Climate Science and disagreeing with the science“.

“Philippe Verdier, weather chief at France Télévisions” is the lead in to the story, but it also cites Freeman Dyson, greatly respected physicist who for decades was at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton:
“‘It’s very sad that in this country, political opinion parted [people’s views on climate change],’ he said, in an interview with The Register. ‘I’m 100 percent Democrat myself, and I like Obama. But he took the wrong side on this issue, and the Republicans took the right side.'”

Precisely my view: “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”.

 

Posted in denialism, global warming, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Psychological toll of climate-science belief

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/07/11

Mountainmere  just drew our attention to the devastating psychological impact of belief in human-caused climate change.

Esquire carried (7 July) a story by John Richardson, “When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job: Among many climate scientists, gloom has set in. Things are worse than we think, but they can’t really talk about it” — they are afraid to talk about it because of “the relentless campaign against them” in which the poor folk are labeled “alarmist”. (The heartbreaking Richardson story was picked up in a number of places, for instance “Climate Scientists Are Dealing with Psychological Problems”  as well as the Judith Curry blog that mountainmere had cited, “Pre-traumatic stress syndrome: climate scientists speak out”.)
If climate “scientists” want to know what a relentless campaign really looks like, they should examine the treatment meted out to those “denialists” who draw attention to the lack of evidence to support the hypothesis of human-caused global warming.

Richardson’s featured climate-scientist victim, Jason Box, is a stereotypical ultra-environmentalist: an American who has worked for Greenpeace, demonstrated at the White House, claimed that sea levels would rise inevitably by 70 feet in the next few centuries, and “escaped America’s culture of climate-change denial” by moving from Ohio to Denmark. A report of methane seeping into Arctic sea-water so terrified Box that he immediately tweeted “If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d”, which naturally brought a flurry of headlines.
Box looks at the worst, and among the least likely, of the various scenarios generated by the computer models used by climate “scientists” — models that have been demonstrably wrong for the last 15-18 years or so during which there has been no warming while carbon dioxide levels have continued to rise; models that fail to account for the 1940s-to-1970s period when global temperatures were actually decreasing while carbon-dioxide levels were steadily rising.
Box thinks “most scientists must be burying overt recognition of the awful truths of climate change in a protective layer of denial (not the same kind of denial coming from conservatives, of course). I’m still amazed how few climatologists have taken an advocacy message to the streets, demonstrating for some policy action.”

Richardson’s story is full of errors, notably that “warming is tracking the rise of greenhouse gases exactly as their models predicted”. No. The models have not predicted the empirical fact that global temperatures have been stable rather than rising since about 2000; some reports even have it as a cooling rather than a slowing or halt in global average temperature: http://isthereglobalcooling.com; http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/01/11/the-portland-state-university-study-of-shrinking-mt-adams-glaciersa-good-example-of-bad-science; http://notrickszone.com/2013/09/12/no-warming-left-to-deny-global-cooling-takes-over-cet-annual-mean-temperature-plunges-1c-since-2000/#sthash.mowZKMjF.dpbs; http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterferrara/2013/05/26/to-the-horror-of-global-warming-alarmists-global-cooling-is-here; http://www.globalresearch.ca/global-cooling-is-here/10783.

Richardson describes the terrible stress that climate scientists are under for bringing their message of lack of hope: “targets of an unrelenting and well-organized attack that includes death threats, summonses from a hostile Congress, attempts to get them fired, legal harassment, and intrusive discovery demands so severe they had to start their own legal-defense fund, all amplified by a relentless propaganda campaign nakedly financed by the fossil-fuel companies”.
It’s just as well that they can continue to do their depressing work with the help of large grants and that any attempts to have them fired went nowhere; and that the “intrusive discovery demands” were no more than to ask for the raw data on which Michael Mann conjured his alarmist “hockey-stick” graph of unprecedented rate of warming — a graph that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dropped from its Reports because it was shown to be not a valid reorientation of the data. Professional scientific journals have increasingly being demanding that all data on which articles are based need to be made publicly available; it is not clear to me why climate “science” should be exempt. The only reason to keep data secret is to avoid that others could show that published analyses are flawed.
And those poor climate scientists suffered from having their e-mails hacked, revealing that they were deliberately fudging the evidence. (Google “Climategate” for details about that.)

So, anyway, those poor activist climate “scientists” are suffering gloom, sadness, fear, anger; “Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a practicing psychiatrist and graduate of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth slide-show training, calls this ‘pretraumatic’ stress.” Some are retreating off the grid to await the catastrophe. “No one has experienced that hostility more vividly than Michael Mann”, who barley manages to keep going as a well-paid tenured full professor at Penn State.

I urge you to read Richardson’s full story, especially the later parts that describe all the suffering that climate scientists endure.

For yet more insight, go to Judith Curry’s earlier blog post, “Pre-traumatic stress syndrome: Climate trauma survival tips”  which informs, among other things, about “the relatively new field of psychology of global warming”; followed by Curry’s sensible deconstruction of climate-change hysteria.

The unfortunate pre-traumatically stressed climate-“science” activists suffer quite unnecessarily. I recommend resort to the school of psychology, “rational-emotive therapy”, associated with the name of Albert Ellis; see his A New Guide to Rational Living, or Help yourself to happiness through rational self-counseling by Macie C. Maultsby, an acolyte of Ellis.
The essence of this approach is to list in writing one’s depressing thoughts, and then the emotions they arouse. Merely writing these down tends to reveal how out of all proportion the emotions are. Then, the really important part, annotate those depressing thoughts with the actual evidence.
With climate “scientists”, this should bring immediate relief, since all their depression arises only from computer models, whereas reality demonstrates that global warming is the result of the Earth recovering from the last Ice Age and that carbon dioxide has no appreciable effect, as proven by the periods from the 1940s to the 1970s and again since 2000, when “carbon” was being emitted relentlessly but Earth warmed not at all or even cooled.

 

Posted in denialism, funding research, global warming, media flaws, peer review, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Who looks at evidence? Almost no one

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/06/28

I’ve been a crank for a long time about Loch Ness Monsters, frustrated because I can’t get people to look at Tim Dinsdale’s 1960 film which shows quite clearly a huge animal swimming in Loch Ness, submerging while still throwing up a massive wake.

For more than a decade, I’ve been a crank about HIV not causing AIDS, frustrated because I can’t get people to look at the clear evidence that HIV tests don’t track something infectious, and that the numbers in plain sight on the website of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, rates of sexual transmission at less than 1 per 1000 acts of unprotected intercourse, mean that HIV cannot cause an epidemic.

Now I’ve become a crank about human-caused climate change, frustrated because people won’t look at the clear evidence that carbon dioxide has been increasing steadily even as the global temperature was level or dropping form the 1940s into the 1970s, when the experts were predicting an Ice Age; and as the global temperature has not increased since the end of the 1990s.

Why don’t people look at evidence?

Because, I’ve finally realized, they don’t want to risk having to change their mind. There is no positive incentive and plenty of negative incentive. It’s beyond cognitive dissonance, which is to evade the significance of evidence after having come across it. It’s obviously even better not to have come across the evidence at all.

On human-caused climate change (HCCC), disbelief is expressed loudly and publicly by “conservatives” (in my view more accurately described as reactionaries) who have that opinion for the wrong reasons, namely the belief that economic free markets are the most important thing and regulating anything is bad.

“Liberals” or “progressives”, on the other hand (who are actually not liberal or progressive but simply knee-jerk politically correct) don’t look at the evidence because they don’t need to, it’s of no interest to them, they would take their stance that humans cause environmental damage no matter what. And they maintain perfect deniability, they are blameless, they were just accepting what the authorities, the experts, have been saying loudly and incessantly.

Most of my family and friends treat my “reactionary” stance on HCCC as a minor flaw, allowing me space because I tend to get caught up in Quixotic stuff all the time. They have no interest in looking at the evidence because they are completely comfortable with the notion of HCCC because it fits their anti-reactionary political views — which I happen to share. If it turns out that this HCCC is mistaken, there would be all sorts of undesirable consequences, in particular that reactionary views might appear to have been vindicated.

I was distressed when Stephen Colbert took HCCC as proven. I am not happy when all the MSNBC crowd does so, but they’ve become too extreme for me anyway and I rarely watch. But I was very unhappy when Jon Stewart took HCCC as proven. And Pope Francis may have been the last straw (in the wind, as far as ever changing public opinion). Though I did get a sort of sardonic enjoyment from the pundits who pointed out that the Pope knew what he was talking about because he had been a chemist. And I am getting continuing Schadenfreude over the contortions of the Republican presidential candidates as they are forced to comment on the Pope’s encyclical.

Evidence-seeking, I realize, is an obsession of perhaps the tiniest minority there is. On the dangers of modern medical practice, there are just a few dozen voices crying out publicly in the wilderness. On HIV/AIDS, there is our Rethinking AIDS  group of some dozens of people, with a few thousand more quietly agreeing. On HCCC, there are a few academic types like myself who got here because of the evidence, and who subsist uncomfortably in the association with people whose political and social views we do not share, to put it mildly.

I’m beginning to accept that none of the items in my bucket list will see the light of an enlightened day within my lifetime: Nessie discovery, rejection of HIV=AIDS, rejection of carbon-dioxide-is-hurting-us.

But I do remain curious about how the “authorities” will adjust when reality eventually catches up with them irrevocably.

[Corrected 8 August 2015 in paragraph 7]

Posted in consensus, denialism, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, global warming, media flaws, medical practices, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | 11 Comments »

Anti-obesity surgery: Weight loss prevents Alzheimer’s? (Anti-obesity fuss IV)

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/09/05

Being obese is bad for you, so everyone is saying just now; everyone including professional societies, official agencies, and drug companies who sell mind-altering drugs to curb your appetite that may also cause “potentially life-threatening serotonin syndrome . . . . confusion, Cognitive Impairment, disturbances in attention or memory . . . , Psychiatric Disorders including euphoria and dissociation, . . . depression or suicidal thoughts” [emphasis added] as well as priapism (erections lasting longer than 4 hours) [1].

Lest this possibility of literally fatal harm suggests that the possible benefit is not worth the risk and dissuades potential customers for these drugs, we’re now told that the drugs might not only harm the brain, they could actually do the very opposite too:

“Weight-loss surgery can boost brain power and ‘cut the risk of developing Alzheimer’s’”

  • Scientists in Brazil found gastric bypass surgery can affect brain activity
  • Found the operation curbed changes in the brain associated with obesity
  • They noted improvements in planning, strategising and organising
  • Researchers also found evidence operation could reduce risk of Alzheimer’s

All this from a study of just 17 obese women, comparing them before bariatric surgery and 24 weeks after surgery.

“[S]ome areas of their [obese women’s] brains metabolised sugars at a higher rate than normal weight women. . . . in a part of the brain linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease . . . . Since bariatric surgery reversed this activity, we suspect the procedure may contribute to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. . . .

The new research focused on a procedure known as a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYBG) which combines the two types of bariatric surgery.

Brain scans and a range of psychological tests were used to assess its effect over a period of six months. . . .
bariatric surgery seemed to improve the performance of the obese women in a test of ‘executive function’. . . . the brain’s ability to connect past experience and current action . . . involved in planning, organising and making strategic decisions. Other tests measuring various aspects of memory and thinking ability showed no change after bariatric surgery”.

 

The original article on which this account is based is Marques et al., “Changes in neuropsychological tests and brain metabolism after bariatric surgery”, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 26 August 2014: jc.20142068. Its 6 pages are replete with speculation and do nothing to decrease my skepticism that lack of improvement in “various aspects of memory and thinking ability” could accompany improved performance in “planning, organising and making strategic decisions”.

This speculation is without any reasonable basis at all because Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is far from well understood. It is simply not known that there is “a part of the brain linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease”. There is considerable evidence against the mainstream hypothesis that AD is characterized by amyloid plaques [2].

TV’s 60 Minutes of 31 August 2014 reported results of continuing research with cohorts of old (≥90 years) people, observing their behavior and cognitive abilities together with in vivo recording of brain activity. The researchers expressed surprise that the amyloid plaques and tau tangles thought to be the cause of AD were present in some people who showed no signs of dementia; while some individuals with dementia had no sign of amyloid plaques or tau tangles. Instead, there were indications that tiny strokes had effectively killed small parts of the brain, strokes so small that the affected individual would have had no immediate indication of their occurrence.

 

Lay people might regard those findings as further evidence that amyloid and tau have nothing to do with AD, or indeed with dementia in general.
Those who believe that science rejects hypotheses when the evidence contradicts them might also imagine that the mainstream is now discarding the notion that AD is caused by accumulation of plaques of amyloid protein.

But that’s not what happens in the real world. The researchers suggested on 60 Minutes that maybe the brains of non-demented individuals with tau tangles and amyloid plaques had found some way or other to “get around” those indications of AD . . . . They didn’t try to explain why some AD victims had no tau tangles or amyloid plaques.

 

Those of us who are familiar with the ignoring of evidence that contradicts mainstream dogmas recognize this as routine, cognitive dissonance in the service of mainstream denialism.

 

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[1] Belviq®, revised 08/2012

[2]  Pp. 108-9 in Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland (2012)

Posted in consensus, denialism, medical practices, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“The scientific method” — it’s just not used, e.g. in Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/07/17

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the dysfunctional knowledge monopolies mentioned in my book, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine  (pp. 108-9).

Decades-old dogma takes the cause of the disease to be the build-up in the brain of plaques of amyloid protein. However, a mass of actual evidence indicates that theory to be wrong: there have been “hundreds of experiments casting doubt on the neurotoxicity of amyloid”; drugs and vaccines that act against the plaque have been ineffective; amyloid injected into brains of mice caused no symptoms. Yet researchers find it very difficult to get their evidence for other causes of Alzheimer’s published or to get research support for their work.

Rationalizations that try to prop up the amyloid theory are feeble and far-fetched, as illustrated by a fairly recent paean to a “breakthrough”:
“New imaging shows Alzheimer’s unfolding in live brains” (Andy Coghlan, New Scientist, 18 September 2013):
“The two major brain abnormalities that underlie Alzheimer’s disease can now be viewed simultaneously in brain scans while people are still alive”. Amyloid plaque has been observable since 2005 by PET (positron emission tomography), but now one can also observe “tau tangles”, and “tau lesions are known to be more intimately associated with neuronal loss than plaques . . . . tau tangles accumulate first in the hippocampus — the brain’s memory centre — at a time when the plaques are already widespread. . . . Previous research has shown that the tangles rapidly kill neurons and trigger behavioural changes. . . . [The new] images suggest that the plaques are themselves harmless, but help to advance disease by spreading the tau tangles from the hippocampus to other brain regions” [emphases added].

Note first that “the scientific method” * that so many pundits still cite and believe in states that a theory is discarded when the evidence goes against it. Here, the mass of evidence against amyloid theory has not broken the grip of the dogmatic knowledge-monopoly. Even as it is acknowledged that tau tangles and not plaques are actually closely associated with loss of neurons, and that plaques were present “10 to 15 years before there are symptoms”, the amyloid theory is still paid obeisance by suggesting that amyloid plays an essential role by “spreading the tau tangles”.

But since plaque pre-dates symptoms by a decade or more, surely it makes more sense to infer that plaque “may be neutral or even beneficial, perhaps attempting to defend neurons that are under attack” since “some amyloid can be found in the brains of most people over 40”.

The New Scientist piece is based on Maruyama et al., “Imaging of Tau Pathology in a Tauopathy Mouse Model and in Alzheimer Patients Compared to Normal Controls”, Neuron, 79 [2013] 1094-1108; the “et al.” stands for 24 additional names. That article begins, “Hallmark pathologies of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are extracellular senile plaques consisting of aggregated amyloid β peptide . . . and intraneuronal . . . pathological tau fibrils, while similar tau lesions in neurons and glia are also characteristic of other neurodegenerative disorders” [emphasis added].
Tau tangles, but not amyloid, are known to be associated with a number of neurodegenerative disorders. Where was the need to invoke amyloid rather than tau as a cause of Alzheimer’s in the first place?
Those who question established mainstream dogmas are routinely called “denialists” — “AIDS denialists”, “climate change denialists”, and so forth. In point of fact, it is typically the mainstream thatis truly denialist: evidence denialist. As Max Planck out it long ago, old theories die only as their proponents also pass away; science advances funeral by funeral.
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* See Scientific Literacy and Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press 1992

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Scientism, the Religion of Science

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/06/09

Comparing unbridled, uncritical belief in Science to religious faith has been quite common.

The belief, faith, or ideology that science can deliver unquestionable certainty and that only science can answer all questions is called scientism.

Toward the end of the 19th century, Thomas Huxley practiced scientism quite overtly as he preached self-described Lay Sermons on behalf of the Church of Science [Knight 1986]. In more recent times, however, scientism has become recognized fairly generally as an unwarranted faith and its adherents do not usually bear public witness to it, dissembling usually by claiming only a rational adherence to observable facts — of course, “scientific” facts.
Nevertheless, common behavior and language use [Bauer 2001] reveal scientism to be a widespread, action-determining ideology; thus the phrase “scientific tests have shown” carries far more impact than “tests have shown”, implying that what is “scientific” is beyond doubt. Such honorific use of “science” or “scientific” is one of the marks of scientism listed by philosopher Susan Haack [2013/14]; other clues include aping the methods and approaches thought to characterize science; drawing sharp distinctions between science and “pseudo-science”; obsession with “the scientific method”; crediting science with the capacity to answer any and all questions; denigrating non-scientific modes of inquiry.

Comparisons of religion and science have largely focused on authorities and hierarchies, comparing scientific researchers to priests, and Scientific Establishments to Vaticans and other religious authorities. At least as significant in practice, though, for everyday matters including politics and social activities, is the similarity of the behavior of followers and acolytes of religion and the behavior of groupies and devotees of Science. Both accept their gurus’ pronouncements uncritically, unreservedly, in equally sheep-like manner, and both parrot those sayings without actual understanding of what they are talking about. Christian fundamentalists, for instance, profess the inerrancy of “the Bible” in blissful ignorance of the fact that there are many “Bibles” in many languages with many self-contradictions and mutual disparities. Environmental fundamentalists and left-leaning others describe global warming and its consequences in blissful ignorance of the pertinent facts, for instance that the greenhouse influence of carbon dioxide is much less than that of water vapor and about equal to that of methane, and that the official projections of future temperature are based on computer models that cannot explain the lack of warming during the last 15 years or so or the 7 or 8 cycles of changes over a range of 5-6°C during the last million years.

Human beings appear to crave certainty of understanding and have sought explanations of observable things and phenomena for as far back in time as we can see and infer. Knowledge about themselves led humans to interpret natural phenomena anthropomorphically, in terms of powers and actions of spirits and super-spirits. The numbers of supposed Gods decreased over time, by 3 or 4 millennia ago shrinking among most people to just one all-powerful Being.
Seeking certainty via “Science” has a shorter history, in particular the “modern” science that is less than a millennium old and which waged explicit battle against Christianity in Europe in the 18th century.
That Science really won that battle is demonstrated by innumerable accommodations that most religions have made with the sciences, in extreme cases by casting religion as “scientific creationism” or its alter ego of “intelligent design”. That the victory enshrined Science as a faith held irrationally was pointed out by John Burnham (How Superstition Won and Science Lost, Rutgers University Press, 1987).

In the human quest for certainty, religion and scientism are two incompatible extremes: both hold certainty to be attainable, but by distinct and incompatible means: in the case of religion via faith and revelation, in the case of scientism via empirical investigation. In both cases, perfectly sound logic is used to draw practical conclusions from the premises. The two extreme worldviews do not differ in rationality, only in the premises from which inferences and implications and applications are drawn.
The space between those two extremes is very sparsely populated, by people who recognize that certainty is not to be attained and who try to live in that “existential” state. Whether acknowledged or not — to themselves as much as to others—, most people hold one of those two extreme beliefs; that is to say, they act as though they hold one of those beliefs.

Those who do not hold one of those extreme beliefs are not much appreciated by those who do. Acolytes of a different religious faith are denigrated as non-believers, pagans, heretics, and have been persecuted sometimes to the point of death. Those who do not accept what the scientific authorities claim are denigrated as ignoramuses, pseudo-scientists, denialists, and are persecuted by sanctions on careers and reputations.

Yet the premises of both religious faith and of scientism are demonstrably doubtful, not to say untenable.

Religious believers hold a particular faith despite the fact that most other human beings disagree with their claims: Every religion is a minority religion. If the Jewish God is The One, then the Christian One cannot be, nor the Islamic One. Moreover, within each of those three umbrellas there are several sects in deadly opposition. Catholics and Protestants have engaged in mutual genocide, as have Shias and Sunnis. Yet acolytes of any given sect within any of the Big Three are somehow able to regard their own beliefs as the only really True One. Religious leaders and their followers manage somehow to ignore the significance of the fact that informed, intelligent people adhere with equal certainty to other faiths. They remain blissfully ignorant of issues fundamental to their premises and doctrines and guides to behavior.

Quite similarly, Scientific Establishments and their followers manage to be blissfully ignorant of their own history, which demonstrates that in the long run they are always proved wrong as “science” “progresses” via Scientific Revolutions as well as less dramatic but significant continual modifications. Scientific Establishments and their followers willfully ignore the lesson that those whom they denigrate as denialists may well turn out to be the secular saints of future Establishments. By ignoring substantive critiques by competent “denialists”, they remain blissfully ignorant of the flaws in their specific doctrines concerning, for example, the Big Bang, prescription drugs, global warming, HIV/AIDS [Bauer 2012]. No matter how often Establishments claim to be evidence-based, even perfunctory browsing in the research and review literatures reveals that the mainstream consensus on many issues of considerable public importance is at the least seriously flawed, at the worst quite untenable.

Public media, politicians, and official agencies all kowtow to Scientific Establishments, with the result that public policies are often seriously, even dangerously misguided.
_________________________________________________________

Bauer, Henry H., 2001: Fatal Attractions: The Troubles with Science, Paraview Press
Bauer, Henry H., 2012: Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland
Haack, Susan, 2013/14: “Six signs of scientism”, Skeptical Inquirer; Part 1, 37 (Nov/Dec 2013) 40-5; Part 2, 38 (Jan/Feb 2014) 43-7; see also Defending Science—Within Reason, Prometheus, 2003
Knight, David, 1986: The Age of Science, Basil Blackwell

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More reviews of DOGMATISM book

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/05/22

Two substantial reviews offering much room for further thought have just been published of Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth:

Journal of Scientific Exploration, 28 (2014) 142-48, by Donald J. DeGracia
Dogmatism in Science and Medicine (DSM) by Henry H. Bauer is about the corruption of modern science. For practicing scientists it is a disturbing book to read. Medicine is bitter, yet we put up with it to get better. DSM is bitter medicine intended to improve the health of science.
. . . .
Dr. Bauer does a professional, competent, and important job bringing the corruption of modern science into the light. The criticisms offered above do not detract from the fundamental correctness of the picture DSM paints, but instead underscore its seriousness, and the need to further refine the picture. To scoff at DSM or to think it is off-base is merely to reveal that the scoffer is woefully uninformed about the transformations that have occurred in science over the past decades. If one is a practicing scientist, or a concerned citizen of good will, one ignores this book at one’s own peril.

Journal of Scientific Exploration, 28 (2014) 149-52, by Brian Josephson
At the end of this fascinating book, Bauer asks the question: Can 21st century science become trustworthy again? He suggests that change must come from outside the existing institutions, which merely serve to perpetuate knowledge monopolies, but first the need for change must become generally recognized . Possibilities discussed include a Science Court; independent, publicly funded institutions that can assess scientific claims of public importance; and designated funds for non-mainstream research. Something of this nature is clearly needed.

 

 

 

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Media malpractice: Misleading is worse than lying

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/04/06

That misleading is far worse and more reprehensible than “white lies” is nicely argued by mathematician Paul Halmos (I Want to Be a Mathematician, Springer Verlag, 1985, pp. 113-14).

One of the worst ways to mislead, because it is undetectable by people not informed by quite specialized and specific knowledge, is the omission of significant information, very much including the insights of experts who differ from a mainstream consensus.

Some 30-odd senior academics recently signed a letter to The Guardian (“We need more scientific mavericks”)  that reiterates what historians of science and other scholars have known and have been saying for decades: Any mainstream consensus is merely temporary. Progress of science has always seen the modifying, often even rejecting and overturning, of an earlier mainstream consensus. But nowadays “peer review, of course, [is] discouraging open-ended inquiries and serious challenges to prevailing orthodoxies. Mavericks once played an essential role in research. Indeed, their work defined the 20th century. We must relearn how to support them”.

That letter fails to mention the damage that the media do routinely by ignoring the insights of the mavericks, their differences with the mainstream consensus, even as some (of course not all) of the currently maverick views will become a future mainstream consensus — albeit again only temporarily. Since the media routinely fail to mention the existence of dissenting views of competent experts — or, even worse, to dismiss them as “denialism”  or “junk science” or “pseudo-science” — the media entrench belief in what may be mistaken mainstream theories and practices.

This blog was stimulated by a short segment on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” (ABC TV, 6 April 2014). A rising incidence of measles was attributed to increasing reluctance of parents to have their children vaccinated — largely among the better-off who, it was said by one of the invited experts (a journalist), thought they were immune from diseases that afflict largely the poor. Not even the report of a single interview was offered in support of this speculative inference.
I suggest that a much more defensible inference about the motives of those parents would be that they recognize how untrustworthy official medical information and practices have become, as described in dozens of works by mainstream insiders.
Regarding vaccines in particular, the benefits reaped long ago from vaccines against measles, whooping cough, polio, smallpox have become invisible because of the very fact of those benefits, largely eliminating the diseases. By contrast, quite prominent is the propaganda for “vaccination against cervical cancer” with Cervarix or Gardasil. That propaganda, from impeccably mainstream authorities, proclaims an unproven benefit — unprovable for decades! — and ignore the proven damage already done to a significant numbers of young people.

It’s not only in medicine, of course, that the media fail to even mention dissenting experts, no matter how commonsensically and obviously right they are. For recent example, almost none of the punditry about Putin and Crimea has emphasized that Crimea was part of Russia until recently and that Russia is as naturally concerned about encroachments from the West as the USA is against encroachments into Cuba and Latin America from apparent allies of Russia. Only one or two short TV segments have allowed the voice to be heard of “Stephen F. Cohen, a veteran Russian scholar at New York University and Princeton”  whose comments are not only well informed, soundly based in thorough historical understanding, and obviously commonsensical, but demonstrated to be very probably the right insights because they have been viciously attacked from both sides of the political spectrum.

 

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Mainstream propaganda by the BBC about denialism and global warming

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/11/05

A BBC documentary entitled “Science Under Attack” was broadcast in the UK on 24th January 2011. It is a superb piece of propaganda masquerading as a scientific documentary. Among other things, it seeks to quench any doubts that emissions of carbon dioxide are greatly speeding up global warming. A secondary aim seems to be to safeguard any and all pronouncements from the Scientific Establishment against criticism from outsiders.

Outside the UK, the program is not available from the BCC website, but on 1 April 2013 it was on YouTube for a short time before being purged for copyright reasons. An earlier YouTube posting had also been removed, as had the 7 sections of the program posted by TheChipsnbeer66.

“Science Under Attack” relied on two unstated presumptions, both of which are unsustainable: That a scientific consensus at any given moment should be taken as correct, and that computer models can accurately make predictions about something as complex as climate.

I call the program superb because it masks its propaganda so subtly:

First through being narrated by Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, a disarmingly amiable man who recounts how he has enjoyed thoroughly his lifelong work in science, along conventional lines but ably enough to bring a Nobel Prize. There is no trace of haughty arrogance in Nurse. When he says, ”Call me Paul”, it is obviously meant wholeheartedly, it is a straightforward, genuine and unassuming meeting card as he begins conversations with people who question the conventional view on global warming, HIV/AIDS, or the safety of genetically modified plants and foods. Even as I find the program deviously misleading, I continue to find Nurse wholly likable. Many likable people are wrong about all sorts of things, and many scientists are wrong about the reliability of contemporary scientific consensuses.

Second, “Science Under Attack” implies evenhandedness by allowing questioners to appear and to be treated in courteous, friendly fashion by Nurse.

Third, the very title of the program already makes its case subliminally. Surely science must actually be under attack if a program is devoted to the matter? Details might be arguable, say, the reasons why it is under attack, but surely the title couldn’t be entirely misleading, could it?
But of course it is. “Science” is not under attack by anyone. It’s just that in quite a number of fields, those in power are suppressing the views of competent peers. It is unwarranted mainstream dogmas that are under attack by a minority of largely ignored experts and informed observers [1].

Fourth, a vast range of relevant stuff is ignored. Perhaps the most important — and the least understood — is that whenever the significance of science outside its own domain is concerned, namely, the consideration of potential applications of scientific knowledge, and in particular any applications that impinge on public policies, scientists (very much including Nobelists like Nurse) are not the experts. Indeed, they are rarely knowledgeable at all. Most relevant here is that the history of science is a continuing story of mainstream consensus being found wrong and needing to be replaced. But most scientists — and many others too — still believe that scientists use a scientific method that automatically produces trustworthy results; they are not only lamentably ignorant but often downright misinformed about the history of science, the philosophy and sociology of science, the psychology of scientists. Scientists qua scientists are not reliable advisors on matters of public policy [2].

An important specific omission comes early in the BBC program, when Nurse cites a letter published in Science in which 250 climate scientists deplore the manner in which they are accused, in intemperate language, of fudging their data. Those cry-babies have nothing to complain of by comparison with how they themselves treat their own peers who happen to take a different view, as when Bjørn Lomborg — who doesn’t even question human-caused global warming, only the purported efficacy of Kyoto-type ameliorations — was compared to a Holocaust denier in a book review published in Nature (414 [2001] 149-50). Dissenters from the consensus are denied research funds, publication in leading journals, inclusion in conferences [1]. The cry-babies had their letter published in Science, but letters from those who dissent from a mainstream consensus and protest the lack of attention to the actual evidence are routinely refused publication in Science and Nature and the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine [3].

The program misleads by stating that the so-called attack on science comes from the lay public, vested ideological interests, and hapless media. In point of fact it is well qualified experts, insiders of the scientific specialty, who question the consensus [4]. Excluded from and shunned by their own professional forums, they can only turn to the public and the media in attempting to get some sort of hearing for their case.

The first flawed presumption on which the BBC program rests — unspoken but clearly entailed implicitly — is that a scientific consensus should always be accepted. This is absurd on its face, especially in conjunction with the program’s soothing assertion that the computer models of global climate are being improved all the time. This amounts to an intellectual oxymoron: If improvement is needed, obviously one shouldn’t have believed earlier claims or, by easy extension, what is now claimed. There is no guarantee that the next “improvement” will not upset the whole apple cart. To give just a couple of actual examples: It had been found that the model was diametrically wrong about the influence of clouds; and it was discovered belatedly that living plants emit significant amounts of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane.
As Michael Crichton pointed out in a splendid essay [5], the same experts whose computer models cannot predict weather with any reliability more than a few days ahead are asking that their computer models be trusted to tell us what’s coming 50 and 100 years from now. Global temperatures have cycled over a range of about 5ºC several times during the last million years. Until the computer models can simulate that record, which they presently cannot, there is no reason to pay any attention to what they predict about the future.
I suggest that when you hear “scientific consensus”, you should immediately reach for your common sense and your history of science. Moreover, many climate scientists and meteorologists are on record as disagreeing with the so-called consensus about climate change.

Crichton is also good about the second flawed presumption. Computer models can never be better than the assumptions and data fed into them. The only way to test them is to compare them with reality. No comparison based on current or past circumstances can ever validate a model for the purpose of making predictions, because the model was constructed through knowledge of those past and present circumstances, and the future might be different in some significant, unsuspected, unforeseeable way. In “Science Under Attack”, Sir Paul expresses admiration for a demonstration at NASA of how similar are the actual circumstances and those calculated by the computer; but of course the computer’s calculations reflect accurately what is happening at the present time, because that’s the knowledge that was programmed into it. Tomorrow may be another day entirely.
The NASA scientist admits that Nature itself, rebounding from the last ice age, is causing some of the warming, but asserts that the present rate of warming is greater than anything in the past. That cannot be known. Past temperatures have fluctuated mightily: over a range of about 15ºC several times during the billions of years of the Earth’s existence, over a range of about 5-6ºC seven or eight times during the last million years, but the data from those past episodes are not fine-grained enough to reveal all the fluctuations over periods as short as a century or so. We simply do not know how rapidly the global temperature rose or fell within any given century 100,000 or a million years ago. Furthermore, assessing changes — let alone rapidity of changes — of a continually fluctuating up-and-down temperature means choosing starting and ending points for calculating the change: start at the trough before a warming period and end at an apex, and the change looks large; start at a rising midpoint and end at a falling midpoint and the “change” will be negligible. The NASA man’s assertion that warming is faster now cannot be known to be true, which makes it in effect a lie, albeit perhaps an unwitting one. A very detailed analysis of Earth’s many temperature cycles, with periodicities ranging from hundreds of years to hundreds of thousands of years, can be found in David Dilley’s “Natural Climate Pulse” [6].

Sir Paul Nurse helps create superb propaganda not only because he is so affable and sincere but also because he symbolizes centuries of scientific achievement, emphasized several times in the program as he visits the Royal Society’s archives and touches volumes by Darwin and Newton. Those lauded scientists were right, therefore we scientists are right now, is the obvious message. There is no mention of Bernard Barber’s long list of now-revered scientists, household names like Einstein (relativity) and Faraday (electrochemistry) and Lister (antisepsis) and Planck (quantum theory) who were fiercely resisted by their contemporary consensus [7]; nor did Newton’s or Darwin’s works receive immediate acclamation from their contemporary peers.
George Bernard Shaw’s insights might well be recalled, that progress depends on “unreasonable” individuals, and that all professions are conspiracies against the laity. Science has been a profession for more than a century now.

The program’s simulation of evenhandedness is entirely misleading. Fred Singer is allowed to make only a single point, that there’s a strong correlation between the solar wind and Earth temperatures. Commenting later on that conversation, Sir Paul points out that one must take into account all the evidence, not just a single factor, implying that this is what Singer does. In reality, Singer in his many publications takes into account every known factor no less than do the orthodox climate scientists, and some might say he considers all the data better than the orthodoxy does. A documentary that made Singer’s case could be just as convincing as this one is, yet in the opposite direction, if 95% of the program expounded Singer’s views of “all” the evidence and if, “in fairness”, one exponent of the orthodox view were allowed to make only a single point.

Similarly, Sir Paul talks with Tony Lance and allows him to mention that he has been “HIV-positive” for 13 years and entirely healthy and that he saw many friends dying after taking AZT. Later Sir Paul confesses that he doesn’t understand Lance’s thinking. Of course he doesn’t, he didn’t spent the requisite time learning about all the mainstream literature Lance has accumulated that supports his interpretation. Were Sir Paul to attempt to convey his own thinking to someone else in the space of a short conversation, that other person could well remain unable to understand Sir Paul’s thinking.

It is also worth bearing in mind that Sir Paul Nurse is a biologist. On the matter of global warming, he takes on trust the purveyors of the orthodox view. This is standard practice within science: specialists in one field trust what they hear from specialists in other fields. But one can reasonably ask, why does Nurse trust the Establishment specialists rather than the at-least-equally qualified and eminent Fred Singer and the thousands of other well qualified specialists who maintain that human-caused global warming has not been proved?
A partial answer to that may be found in “The New World Order in Science”: Conflicts of interest within science and vested interests from outside science have distorted “the search for truth” to the degree that a contemporary “scientific consensus” reflects power and not truth.

“Science Under Attack”, then, is thoroughly wrongheaded and misleading, about matters large — the nature of science, the significance of a scientific consensus, the role of computer models — and about matters smaller, the specific evidence for and against human-caused global warming, HIV-caused AIDS, and the dangers of genetically modifying organisms. It is superbly convincing through the devices I’ve described. It is propaganda pure and simple, at its best — which means at its moral worst.
It would therefore be gratifying to wax furious at Sir Paul Nurse and the writers and producers of this program for their devilish ingenuity in manufacturing such a fine piece of propaganda. But the reality is even worse. We should never attribute to deliberate malice what can be explained by incompetence or ignorance, because incompetence and ignorance are really so much more common than deliberate malice [8]. In more than one place, Sir Paul asserts that science is always trying to test its theories to self-destruction, always looking to all the evidence, always empirical and open-minded. It’s clear that he genuinely believes those things, not understanding that they are ideals and that scientists fall far short of practicing those ideals, individually to some extent but chiefly collectively, because science nowadays is a collection and a hierarchy of interlocking institutions that make it enormously difficult to change any established consensus [1].

This BBC program was produced by perfectly well-intentioned true believers, whose ignorance is vast and quite unsuspected by them. They don’t know that they are cultish followers of the ideology of scientism, and they would be disbelieving, shocked, offended were that pointed out to them.

It is always worth recalling that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions.

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[1] Henry H. Bauer, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland 2012.
[2] Authoritative discussions of this point by a well-informed writer on science and politics can be found in Science, Money and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion (2001) and Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism (2007), both by Daniel S. Greenberg, University of Chicago Press. As to the so-called scientific method, see Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press, 1992.
[3] See “Suppression of Science Within Science”.
[4] See for instance the Science and Environmental Policy Project,  established by the distinguished scientist Fred Singer. See also my summary of why human-caused global warming should be treated with the greatest skepticism: “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”.
[5] Michael Crichton, “Aliens cause global warming (Caltech Michelin Lecture)”, 17 January 2003.
[6] The book can be downloaded from Dilley’s website  under “Climate Cycles” and then “Climate Pulse E-Book”. I couldn’t make the links work, so Google “David Dilley Climate” and go from there.
[7] Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery.” Science, 134 (1961) 596-602.
[8] I believe that I first saw this expressed as one of Murphy’s Laws, which contain a huge amount of practical wisdom: Arthur Bloch, Murphy’s Law and other reasons why things go wrong; Murphy’s Law Book Two — more reasons why things go wrong; Murphy’s Law Book FourThree — wrong reasons why things go more (Price/Stern/Sloan, 1980-1982).

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